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Southern Cross and other constellations to be viewed at Winter Star Party

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As many as 600 amateur and professional astronomers from around the world are to gather in the Lower Florida Keys Sunday through Sunday, Feb. 23 through March 2, attracted by the chance for 180-degree viewing of the Southern Cross and other constellations during the 30th annual Winter Star Party.

The event's primary draw for astronomers is the large number of southern constellations, comets, stars and other celestial objects that are visible from the Florida Keys — virtually the only place in the continental United States where they can be seen. The Keys' southern location and relative absence of large-scale artificial lighting at night provide optimal viewing conditions.

The event is to take place at Camp Wesumkee, a Girl Scout camp at mile marker 34.5 off U.S. Highway 1 on Scout Key, formerly known as West Summerland Key.

As well as nightly stargazing opportunities, Winter Star Party participants can attend lectures and presentations by nationally recognized astronomers and guest speakers.

Highlights are to include a presentation by Dr. Valerie Neal, curator of the Smithsonian Institute's artifact collections from the space shuttle era and International Space Station including the orbiter Discovery. Her professional accomplishments also include writing, editing and managing some 25 NASA publications and working on the mission management support team for four space shuttle missions.

Other scheduled presenters include carbon star expert Bob Pitt and star party founder Tippy D'Auria, a renowned planetary astronomer and astro-photographer.

Attendees also can shop for astronomy equipment from on-site vendors, participate in photo contests, compete for prizes and exchange information with fellow aficionados. Special camp activities are arranged for young astronomers.

Hosted by Miami's Southern Cross Astronomical Society, the Winter Star Party is open to the public as well as to SCAS members. Registration is required before the event and tickets are not available at the gate.

For event information and registration, visit scas.org or Lower Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com/lowerkeys or call 305-872-2411.

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